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Pregnancy and baby

Does your child have a serious illness?

It can be difficult to tell when a baby or toddler is seriously ill, but the main thing is to trust your instincts.

You know better than anyone else what your child is usually like, so you'll know when something is seriously wrong.

Signs of serious illness in a baby or toddler

Here's a checklist of warning signs that might be serious:

Temperature

  • a high temperature, but cold feet and hands
  • a high temperature that doesn't come down with paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • your child is quiet and listless, even when their temperature is down
  • a high temperature in a baby less than eight weeks old

Read more about how to take your child's temperature.

Find out how to treat a high temperature at home.

Breathing

  • rapid breathing or panting
  • a throaty noise while breathing
  • your child is finding it hard to get their breath and is sucking their stomach in under their ribs

Other signs

  • blue, pale, blotchy, or ashen (grey) skin
  • your child is hard to wake up, or appears disorientated or confused 
  • they are crying constantly and you can't console or distract them, or the cry doesn't sound like their normal cry
  • a spotty, purple-red rash anywhere on the body that doesn't fade when you press a glass against it – this could be a sign of meningitis
  • green vomit
  • your child has a fit (convulsion or seizure) for the first time
  • your child is under eight weeks old and doesn't want to feed 
  • nappies that aren't very wet – this is a sign of dehydration

If your child has any of these signs, get medical help as soon as possible:

  • during the day from Monday to Friday – it's best to call your GP practice
  • evenings and weekends – call NHS 111, or call the out-of-hours number for your GP practice
  • if your baby is under six months old it's hard for a doctor or nurse to assess them over the phone – you can go to an urgent care (walk-in) centre or, if you are very worried, take them to accident and emergency (A&E)

Find your nearest urgent care centre.

Find your nearest A&E.

When to call an ambulance

Call 999 for an ambulance if your child:

  • stops breathing
  • won't wake up
  • is under eight weeks old and you are very worried about them
  • has a fit for the first time, even if they seem to recover
  • has a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis)
  • if you think someone may have seriously injured your baby

Again, trust your instincts. You know what's different or worrying behaviour in your child.

Spot the signs of childhood diseases

Learn the signs of serious diseases that can affect children:

How can I tell if my baby is seriously ill?

Media last reviewed: 17/01/2015

Next review due: 17/01/2017

Page last reviewed: 22/04/2016

Next review due: 22/04/2018

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